Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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The Feds Just Accused Volkswagen of an Unbelievable Scheme to Evade Pollution Laws

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 3:17 PM EDT
The Jetta was one of the VW models named in the citation.

Volkswagen produced hundreds of thousands of cars with a device made to intentionally evade air pollution standards, according to a citation issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA alleges that nearly 500,000 VW cars sold in the United States over the last several years were equipped with the device, which the EPA says enabled the onboard computer to detect when the car was undergoing an emissions test. At that time, the engine would operate in a way that complied with emissions standards; at all other times, the car would produce emissions of harmful gases up to 40 times greater than allowed by federal law. The primary gas in question is nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, which is a leading cause of respiratory ailments.

This table from the citation lists the models that were allegedly outfitted with the illegal device. All of the cars in question had diesel engines:

EPA

The EPA cites a 2014 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation that found a troubling gap between real-world and laboratory emissions in some diesel cars, without naming specific manufacturers.

"When you test it in the lab, they looked great," said Anup Bandivadekar, one of the study's authors. "But when you actually drive them around, emissions were much higher."

The citation issued today lifted the curtain on the specific cars in question and delineates the federal laws VW is accused of violating. The EPA is continuing to investigate the charges and has passed the citation to the Justice Department, where it will be up to federal prosecutors to prove the charges. Volkswagen could be compelled to fix all the cars and pay up to $3,750 per car (roughly $18 billion altogether) in fines.

In a statement, a Volkswagen spokesperson said the company was cooperating with the investigation but declined to comment further.

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This Catholic Congressman Is Boycotting Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 11:55 AM EDT

When Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress next Thursday, there's a pretty good chance he'll talk about climate change, one of his favorite subjects of late. Paul Gosar, a Republican Congressman from Arizona, is not happy about that. 

Plenty of climate change deniers, Catholic and not, have expressed their displeasure with the Holy Father over his stance on climate. But Gosar, himself a Catholic, just became the first member of Congress to announce he will boycott the speech because of it.

In a column published in Town Hall yesterday, Gosar wrote:

The earth's climate has been changing since God created it, with or without man. On that, we should all agree…If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so in his personal time. But to promote questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous…

When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.

Obviously, Gosar, a dentist by trade, does not think man-made climate change is a real thing. He also isn't a fan of clean energy: Earlier this year, he sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for an inquiry into allegedly deceptive trade practices by the solar industry. (It was later revealed that the letter was originally drafted by Arizona's biggest power company and slipped to Gosar's office.) He also wants to impeach the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and has accused her of perjury.

Apparently, Gosar didn't get the memo that Congress, which is usually where hope for climate action goes to die, is supposed to be on its "best behavior" for the pope's visit.

So far, at least one faith group has called foul on Gosar. John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith for Public Life, said in a statement, "This stunning display of disrespect toward Pope Francis from a Catholic elected official shows a profound ignorance about the church's teachings when it comes to stewardship of creation."

David Letterman's New Job: Fight Back Against Global-Warming Deniers

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

Stephen Colbert is great, sure, but we were all sad to see David Letterman leave late-night TV this spring. Fortunately, he's not gone forever: The National Geographic Channel announced yesterday that Letterman will appear as a special correspondent on the second season of Years of Living Dangerously, the Emmy-winning documentary series about climate change. 

From the Los Angeles Times:

The upcoming season of the series will focus on "solutions that individuals, communities, companies and even governments can use to address worldwide climate change," said [National Geographic Channels CEO Courtney] Bach in a statement...

Other Hollywood names attached to Season 2 include Joshua Jackson ("The Affair"), Jack Black ("The Brink"), Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") and Cecily Strong ("Saturday Night Live").

The season will air next October, just before the presidential election.

2015 Will Probably Be the Hottest Year on Record

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 12:46 PM EDT

Another day, another smashed temperature record.

Earlier this week, a trio of independent analyses by scientists in the UK, Japan, and the US found that global temperatures over the summer were among the highest on record. Wednesday, US scientists announced that sea ice extent in the Arctic shrunk to its fourth-lowest minimum ever this summer. And Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined the chorus with a report that found that last month was the hottest August ever recorded, and that 2015 is on pace to be the hottest year on record.

If this sounds familiar, that's because 2014 was very likely the hottest year on record until now. As my colleague Jeremy Schulman pointed out at the time, the specific ranking is way less important than the overall trend, which is that we're experiencing more record-breaking hot temperatures than ever before. Today's news is just more proof of that.

Here's the data for August. There is a lot of dark red (meaning the hottest on record) on this map:

NOAA

The picture looks equally extreme for the year-to-date:

NOAA

Here's how those year-to-date temperatures stack up against some other extremely hot years. You can see that 2015 is on pace to blow past 2014:

NOAA also reported that the insane drought in California and the Northwest won't be lifting anytime soon:

NOAA

Here's What the Drivers of the GOP Clown Car Are Saying About Climate Change

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 4:06 PM EDT

The second Republican primary debate is tonight. It should be fun. It's supposed to focus on foreign policy, so it could be an excellent opportunity to examine the global implications of climate change. What's more, three of the show's biggest stars have been running their mouths about global warming over the last few days.

Guess what? The things they said were dumb and wrong.

First up: The Donald. During a speech in Texas on Monday, Trump took aim at President Barack Obama's oft-repeated (and true) claim that climate change is a major threat to America's national security.

"They changed it to climate change because the word 'global warming' wasn't working," Trump said. "Then they changed it to extreme weather—you can't get hurt with extreme weather."

Next up, rising star Ben Carson, who has gained more in the polls over the last month than any other candidate and poses the biggest challenge to Trump tonight. Last week, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that "there is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break."

Actually, there is a ridiculously overwhelming amount of science that shows just that. And fortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) was happy to share all that information with Carson:

Finally, there's Carly Fiorina, the only candidate to be promoted from the "kid's table" debate in August, to the grown-up table tonight, thanks to some good polling early in the month. In an interview with CNBC's John Harwood published today, she trotted out the good old standby line that "a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all," and that therefore the United States needs to stop "destroying peoples' livelihoods on the alter of ideology."

I guess she missed the news that the United States, rather than acting alone, has actually been really successful in convincing China and other major polluters to take action.

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